Over a decade ago, founder and director of The Reader, Jane Davis, brought a few people together in a library. They had gathered to read literature aloud, realising literature had the power to bring something to people that they didn’t even know they needed.
Fast forward 10 years and we have The Reader – a national network of readers who facilitate Shared Reading groups across communities. The aim of The Reader is to connect people to literature. Across the country, The Reader work with a range of people who experience a sense of isolation. From children in the care system to care homes to prisons, The Reader brings people together to form their own community of reading aloud.
This month’s movement masterclass is dedicated to this movement of readers. We had the pleasure of training The Reader in crowdfunding at our latest Crowdfunding 101 workshop in Manchester. I caught up with Emma Walsh, Communications Assistant at The Reader, to discuss the healing power of literature.
Keep it simple, keep it powerful
EW: “Shared Reading is such a simple thing. It works in every centre, in every setting. Each week, a facilitator will help read to the group and lead the discussion. People can choose to listen along, or to read a section aloud. We’re creating a space for people to create connections with literature.”
SCA: The Reader’s success as a movement lies in its simplicity. The concept: reading aloud together reduces feelings of isolation. The action: create Shared Reading groups in areas where people feel most isolated. The result: a network of facilitated reading groups across the UK, powerful in their ability to bring people together through shared reading.
It’s led by the people
EW: “This is a movement of readers. What we do is people-powered. There’s a huge network of volunteers across the country who bring their shared reading into their own communities. It’s community led, and they will receive full training from The Reader HQ. We equip our movement members with the full understanding of what shared reading is and the skills to start a reading group from scratch. When they go off to develop their own shared reading groups in their communities, the movement members really make it into their own. But we’re always here when they need a helping hand”
SCA: The secret to a successful movement lies in the high level of trust the movement’s HQ has in its members, and vice versa. A movement that acknowledges the value of its members allows the members to feel a sense of ownership over the movement. This is key to the sustainability of any movement, expanding your movement means trusting in your members. Losing control, as our event earlier this year highlighted, has the power to transform an idea into a movement.
It’s rooted in shared belief, values and experiences
EW: “Many people who come to the groups come at a time of personal difficulty or transition, whether that’s an experience of grief or retirement. They come together to create a sense of community that has been lost through the growth of technology. There’s a sense of intimacy at these shared reading groups, holding a physical book and discovering things about yourself through interacting with literature. As one reader put it ‘you need it, you just don’t know you need it’”.
SCA: The key element to a strong movement lies in the core, the difficult thing of defining your people and part of what them motivates them to take time out of their busy lives to take part in your movement. The key experience that motivates readers to come together is a feeling of isolation after a form of transition. The Reader has tapped into this shared experience and has offered the intimate space that its movement members desire.
Finally, what’s your favourite book?
EW: “To Kill a Mockingbird, the more I read it the more I love it. I read it first at GCSE, and yet every time I have read it since I have discovered more things about it. Peter Pan is a close second, though.”
SCA: The powerful thing about The Reader is that everyone, no matter where you are, can understand and share in the healing power of great literature. What’s been your favourite book?
Here are a few from The Social Change Agency’s HQ:
- Ellen Ferrante, Those who leave and those who stay
- J.M Barrie, Peter Pan
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
- Rohiton Mistry, A Fine Balance,
If you want to share with us your favourite book, you can tweet us at @socialchangeag – we’d love to hear it!